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Surprise! Women started more firms than men.

Before the recession, women were starting twice as many firms as men. Now, they may do even better.

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Some 10.1 million firms are owned or co-owned by women, 40 percent of all businesses in the United States, says the Center for Women's Business Research, a research group in McLean, Va. Between 2002 and 2007, women created almost twice as many businesses as men, according to data from the Census Bureau. The number of women transitioning from the labor force to self-employment hit a two-decade low in 2007, just as the recession was about to hit, according to the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo., group devoted to entrepreneurship. By 2009, the rate was back to normal.

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Borrowing is another matter. More women than men left the already small ranks of those taking out subsidized loans from the Small Business Administration between 2007 and 2009. This year the number of SBA loans jumped for men, but kept falling for women.

"We haven't taken one dime in loans," says Heather Anderson, co-owner of Bulldogg's Jersey Shop in Oceanside, Calif., which sells NFL, NBA, and other jerseys. "The idea from the beginning was to choose something that would still have a market in a down economy.... The last thing people will give up is their team."

The strategy has worked. "I anticipate by Christmas, our business will eclipse our day jobs," says Ms. Anderson, a freelance journalist whose business partner and fiancé is a personal trainer.

"The number of women-owned firms is continuing to increase," says Professor Coleman. "Some of the older literature and research said [that] to be successful, you have to do it the way a man does it. [But] they are not just imitating men, they are creating new possibilities – taking control of their own destiny. It's very, very exciting."

Webster and Ms. Doherty prioritized cost-cutting so that they could grow without loans. "So far, we've just been selling them to our friends," says Webster, but they're moving into e-commerce, "so we don't have to pay great gobs of money to these pro shops or tennis shops – that are all going out of business, anyway."

That patience has paid off. In only two months, Net Wit has broken even. Now, the pair is looking forward to expanding with sales to a women's team, an upcoming launch party, and a website. The other day, Webster says, she heard about two women at a coffee shop saying, "I saw women playing tennis, wearing the cutest shirts – 'Love all‚' 'Get a grip.'" Webster delights in the word-of-mouth advertising. "Our first success!"

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